Many of us (here and elsewhere) have lamented over the problem of trying to reach and/or create an audience of Mormon readers who might have an interest in fiction reflecting a Mormon perspective but grittier or more realistic than what standard LDS bookstores can or will carry.
I don’t have any new ideas about how to find those readers. However, I do have an idea about a different piece of the puzzle. At the moment, there’s no single place to send people where they can browse for authors and titles that might interest them. My suggestion: an online store that caters specifically to Mormon literature, organized to make browsing easy — like a good brick-and-mortar bookstore — with a broad and inclusive enough selection that people could explore with a fair confidence of finding what they’re looking for.
I hasten to admit that I have no idea how this could be done (from a technical perspective) or who would do it. The idea started as an electronic parallel to an art gallery co-op, where the different artists put in shifts at the desk. Maybe this could be done as a cooperative effort among some of the independent LDS publishers, though that could have some disadvantages (see below). Perhaps it would be better to run it simply on a volunteer basis. For now, though, I’d like to talk about what I’d like to see in such an online bookstore from a user/customer perspective.
- I’d like to see as broad a selection as possible within the realm of Mormon literature. Ideally, this would include titles from as many publishers as possible (including self-published) and information about out-of-print books, with a link to Amazon or Sam Weller or somewhere else that might be willing to sell and ship a used book. Even if part of the goal is to help people find the realistic stuff, I think the idea will work better if everything that could be described as Mormon literature is listed in the inventory. While the original idea had to do with providing a space for books not found in standard LDS bookstores, I think that in the interests of offering a complete range — and in order to increase the chances of success — it should also include titles from Deseret Book, Covenant, etc., on an equal footing.
- Accurate, standardized information about each book, including all the regular stuff (publishing house, pages, binding, ISBN, etc.), plus some kind of rating system or description (e.g., violence, sex, language — for those to whom that’s important), genre(s), topic(s), award(s), links to published reviews in places list AML and AMV, links to author’publisher webpages/website, and whatever other information might be easy to collect and useful to help readers figure out if the book might interest them (setting? timeframe?). There should also be an indication of the Mormon connection (Mormon characters? Mormon themes?) and stance (e.g., pro, anti, neutral), though the latter would have to be done cautiously. It strikes me that authors and publishers would have a strong motivation to do much of this work themselves, if a consistent framework could be set up.
- A top-level organization by genre (like a brick-and-mortar bookstore), but with options to list and access book titles/descriptions flexible in many other ways as well (e.g., by topic). It should be possible to see lists such as the Whitney Award winners and finalists, AML award winners, and possibly top-20 lists (in general or by genre) by noted Mormon critics (e.g., Richard Cracroft) or others. Favorite books by well-known Mormons without particular literary credentials might be worth considering too, for sheer market appeal (e.g., Gladys Knight). And it should be possible to see (a) new releases, and (b) new additions to the site since a date specified by the user.
- Something that might be nice (if it’s not too difficult to do) would be to make the website organization and appearance customizable by the user. For instance, if you’d rather see books that only match specific criteria, that should be possible.
- There should be a way for readers to rate and share their opinions about books. Possible this would need to be moderated to reduce the possibility of turning it into a way of promoting one’s own work or sabotaging that of others. Ideally, there would also be some kind of “if-you-liked-this-then-look-at-this” setup.
- I don’t know but am guessing to trying to actually sell books from the site might be a pain. Links to places like the publisher’s site or Amazon.com would suffice. Maybe it could be set up like the AMV deal, where the links to Amazon bring some small amount back to the coffers? It might never pay enough to make the site a paying proposition, but at least could help pay for server space.
So there it is. Anyone want to take a crack? I’d even be willing to serve my shift adding and coding books, if someone actually gets it started…